Some behaviors and psychodynamic processes appear to be artifacts of pathological narcissism – but are not. Consider, for example, serial idealizers and anxious people-pleasers.
Serial idealizers go through brief sexual episodes or micro-relationships at a dizzying speed. They instantly and counterfactually idealize a date or a random stranger - or even a group of them! - as potential mates or friends.
Sometimes within minutes from a chance encounter, they construct a one-sided fantastic narrative and act as though it were true.
The fantasy has three functions:
1. To legitimize ego dystonic or socially unacceptable sex acts or sexual choices, or sex with strangers which is more typically associated with intimate partners;
2. To make the serial idealizer feel good: loved, accepted, wanted, and liked;
3. To facilitate bonding and attachment should the fiction be reciprocated and become a shared fantasy.
The serial idealizer may attempt to compulsively recreate the experiences, hoping for better outcomes with the same partners or with different ones.
Like the narcissist, the serial idealizer is interacting with an internal object, not with the real sex partner or date. This way, she avoids the emotional costs of rejection (“I couldn’t care less what a stranger I will never see again thinks about me”).
Inevitably and almost invariably, reality painfully diverges from the fantastic yarn. This justifies moving on with minimal heartbreak to the next target - or cheating, if in a committed relationship.
People pleasing is sometimes a life strategy intended to ameliorate extreme generalized anxiety. The world is perceived as hostile or frustrating and the only defense is to be “liked”, “loved”, or “accepted” by others, whether individuals or collectives.
Anxiety-driven people pleasers have no personal boundaries. They would do anything and agree to everything in order to belong: be treated as an objectified sex slave in one-on-one or in group settings; be verbally, emotionally and physically abused; and let themselves be taken advantage of and exploited.
In fact, these people pleasers interpret sexual and other forms of abuse as “initiation rites”: proof positive of having been inducted into a relationship or a fraternity/sorority.
Anxious people pleasers place emphasis on material objects or money: objective measures of affection, sharing, and goodwill.
Gifts are understood as signs of affiliation. They are devastated when they are taken financial advantage of or stolen from by the very people whose favor they seek to curry.
Addicts (alcoholics, junkies, gamblers, all sorts) share several important clinical features with both psychopaths and narcissists:
1. Grandiosity which is partly the outcome of disinhibition (“alcohol myopia” for example) and a sense of immunity to the consequences of one’s actions;
2. Low threshold of boredom and reduced tolerance for routines. This leads to novelty seeking and recklessness;
3. Defiance and contumaciousness (disdain for social mores, propriety, and authority);
4. Mendaciousness: ubiquitous lying, disloyalty, sexual and romantic cheating, and attempts to cover up antisocial activities and misconduct or to resolve cognitive dissonances. Addicts lead double or parallel lives;
5. Deficient impulse control and impaired ability to delay gratification.
Addicts deceive themselves that they are in full control of their addictions and can pull out any time.
Addiction is often a dysfunctional attempt to reassert control over the addict’s life by maintaining the illusion of choice or free will (“I choose to drink”, “I want the sex”, “I love to gamble or shop”).
The same psychodynamic characterizes eating disorders (though body dysmorphia is rarely an integral part of the addiction itself).
Patients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) suffer from two core issues:
1. They feel much safer with strangers, even when these new acquaintances are unpleasant, than with their intimate partners, especially when these mates are loving.
Being loved provokes in the Borderline a cascade of negative consequences:
1. Pain aversion: a catastrophized fear of ultimate heartbreak, abandonment, and rejection;
2. Paranoid ideation regarding the manipulative hidden agenda of the loving partner;
3. Avoidant behaviors;
5. Fear of engulfment, of being consumed by the mate.
Faced with such stressors, Borderlines often act out violently or recklessly.
Some Borderlines cheat in order to preempt intolerable abandonment and undermine intimacy.
Cheating also upholds their view of themselves as “bad, corrupt, hopeless” or “whore”.
Such misbehavior is often coupled with substance abuse.
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